LAND O'LAKES — The Pasco school district's traffic safety team is recommending the School Board cancel almost half of its 26 courtesy bus rides serving more than 650 students.
Superintendent Heather Fiorentino remains unconvinced.
"We are looking at courtesy riders. Don't get me wrong," Fiorentino said. "But in this report, in my opinion, safety has not been key."
She had concerns that some of the dozen routes proposed for elimination travel roads that aren't appropriate for children to walk along or cross.
For instance, she worried about letting Trinity Oaks Elementary School students cross six-lane Mitchell Boulevard, which has no sidewalk.
She also had her doubts about allowing Bayonet Point Middle School students walk along Osceola Drive, where a bridge forces the road to narrow and there's no sidewalk or easement on the side.
"I have to understand where these (recommendations) are coming from," Fiorentino said. "This is not something parents should worry about."
The issue of "courtesy" rides provided without state funding to students living less than 2 miles from school emerged last summer. That's when former board member Marge Whaley suggested ending a route serving Lake Myrtle Elementary because the county had built sidewalks in the surrounding neighborhood.
The administration initially added the savings from canceling the route to its budget cut list. It never canceled the bus service, though, because the full board asked for a review of all courtesy routes, to ensure everyone in the county is treated equally and fairly.
Targeting routes that might no longer be needed has remained on the table because the state covers only about half the cost of Pasco's $33 million transportation budget, with the rest coming out of local funds. So any savings would help, particularly as the district looks for ways to carve millions out of its general operations spending.
If the district were to cut all 12 routes as recommended by the staff, it would save $172,050.
"We're looking at a 10 to 15 percent budget cut here," board chairman Frank Parker said. "I think everything is important."
At the same time, vice chairman Allen Altman added, the district must balance its financial needs with its responsibility to provide students a safe way to school. Some of the routes probably can be cut, while others should not be cut, Altman said, noting he had not seen the staff report.
Fiorentino acknowledged that some of the routes might ultimately be eliminated by the district. She mentioned bus rides serving some students who attend Chasco Elementary and Chasco Middle as possibilities.
But many details must be worked through first, she added, such as figuring out whether paying for a crossing guard would offset the savings. Until the study is complete, she said, no changes will be made.
Board member Kathryn Starkey figured that at least some courtesy bus rides will be chopped.
"That's a lot better than taking a teacher out of the classroom," Starkey said.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.